Expiration, Sell-By, Use-Before, and Use-By Dates on Foods: What Do They Mean?

Posted September 7th, 2011 by Elaine Hastings, RD - Nutrition Expert and filed in Food Safety, health, In The News, Wellness, When to throw out food

Expiration, Sell-By, Use-Before, and Use-By Dates on Foods: What Do They Mean?

Often people open up their refrigerators, cupboards, and cabinets only to find foods with questionable integrity. Some people trust their noses. Others look for visible signs of mold or deterioration. Figuring out the difference between the “expiration,” “sell by,” “use before,” and “use by” dates may leave some people scratching their heads.

While it is always better that you are safe rather than sorry, the following guidelines and information should help to take the guesswork out of determining whether or not your food is good to eat.

Expiration date
The expiration date is the last day the food is safe to eat. If you have not consumed it by this date, throw it away. After the expiration date, it may cause someone to become sick if consumed.

Sell by date
This is the date that is printed for the supermarket. If the item has not sold by this date, the store should remove it from the shelf. It still may remain safe for consumption, if eaten after the marked date. Depending on the food, you still can store these items in your home for days to weeks after the sell by date.

Best if used before or by
The best if used before or by date means the food has a guarantee of peak freshness by this date, if it is properly stored. After that date, it will still remain safe to consume for a while, although it will have a lesser quality of taste, flavor, or nutrition.

Managing foods
For an exhaustive list of how to manage foods, visit the following Web sites:

Canned foods
Making sure canned foods are safe is not as easy to determine as more highly perishable foods.

Follow this advice:

  • Many times the expiration date has to do with the actual can and not the food inside of it; many foods will outlast the can, but if the can starts to lose its integrity before the food, the expiration date will reflect this
  • If the can is dented at a double seam on the top or bottom of the can, throw it away immediately
  • If the can has rust on it, throw it away
  • If the can has a severe dent on the side that pulls the top or bottom of the can, throw it out
  • If the can is swollen, do not consume its contents

Dating requirements
The only foods that are mandated by the US Dept of Agriculture to include dating requirements are infant formula and baby food. Many foods do not have any date or indication of freshness to determine whether they are safe to consume. Some foods use a different system called Julian dates, whereby the month is indicated by a number or a letter and the year is represented with only one number, representing the last number of the year it was produced (for example, 2009 is marked as a 9).

While following these guidelines can alleviate some of the confusion about whether a food is safe or not, the best advice probably is “when in doubt, throw it out!”

References

Office of Citizen Services and Communications, US Government Services Administration. Deciphering good expiration dates. Available at:http://blog.usa.gov/roller/govgab/entry/deciphering_food_expiration_dates. Accessed November 17, 2009.

Wood D. Nothing simple about food dating, expiration dates or ‘use by’ dates: most product dates relate to quality rather than safety. Available at: http://www.consumeraffairs.com/news04/2009/08/expiration_dates.html. Accessed November 17, 2009.

Info provided by RD411

 

Weekend Warriors Prevent Injury with Preparation

Ever heard the term “Weekend Warriors?” These fun-loving, sports-minded folks work hard then occasionally decide to have some fun by participating in an activity that’s new (or old and dear). The problem is, their body isn’t conditioned through diet and exercise for what’s about to happen, and the result is often an injury … sometimes a bad injury.

Common catalysts for weekend warrior syndrome are spring thaw, reunions, holidays, turning 40, turning 50, New Year’s resolutions and your teen’s friends playing ball in the lot next door. There are abundant opportunities to “jump right in” and although your heart’s in the right place, you could pay a big price later.

I’ve fallen victim to this scenario myself. I work out on a regular basis and eat well, but recently I played a charity softball game, a sport that I used to play in my younger years … and I could not get out of bed on Monday. I also could not use my Blackberry because my hands hurt so bad.

Had I at least been doing some type of similar activity before that game, or stretching the body parts I knew I’d be using, I might have had a fighting chance. Changing from a flat gym floor to uneven earth or rolling trails or sloped beaches can also cause issues. Imagine what the 50th-birthday-but-20-mile-bike-ride might do to an office worker.

If we’re not used to using certain muscles, we make ourselves prime candidates for debilitating or highly irritating injuries. I was thinking about the various ways to keep the body prepared for the occasional odd activity, and came across a great quote on the Internet: “Men over 40 should be fit for their sport rather than using their sport to get fit,” it said. This surely applies to everyone contemplating a sudden, big burst of athleticism.

The easiest way to avoid injury is the one requiring the most discipline: don’t do too much of anything that’s new. Start out in moderation, play part of the game, do 5 miles instead of 20. You could save yourself a stress fracture or a couple of very uncomfortable weeks.

Flexibility and stretching are key, too, so if you know you have a new sport ahead, start working that part of the body, stretching daily, and always stretch after a workout to gain flexibility. A balanced diet and proper weight is always a good idea. Hauling an extra 30 pounds around a make-believe football field is tough.

Here’s another tip: A lack of magnesium can lead to muscle weakness and cramps. Magnesium is lost via sweat, so regular exercisers and even saunagoers need to take in enough magnesium rich foods or supplement magnesium. But after a spontaneous workout, you’d do well to have some on hand.

Weekend warriors can benefit from maintaining a healthy mineral balance. Think of magnesium as your “muscle mineral.” The FDA recommends 310-420 mg daily for most adults.

Here are a few magnesium-rich foods if, like me, you prefer a healthy diet to taking lots of supplements: 3 ounces of halibut, 90 gm; 1 ounce dry roasted almonds, 80 gm; 1 ounce dry roasted cashews, 75 gm; 1/2 cup cooked soybeans, 75 gm; 1/2 cup frozen spinach, 75 gm; 1 ounce mixed dry roasted nuts, 65 gm; 2 biscuits of Shredded Wheat cereal 55 gm; 1 cup instant fortified oatmeal, 55 gm.

I also like to keep resistance bands all around me: tied to doors, in my travel bag, in front of the TV, wrapped around the legs and arms of my chairs. A good 10-minute workout with bands can be great if done right.

So if your college roomie has challenged you to a tennis rematch from days gone by … start working the “pushing” muscles on your chest wall, and get your shoulder primed for action. Do some sideways motion drills, and start taking magnesium. If it’s been a while, you’re going to need it!

Summer Vacation Helps the Body; Make Yours Healthy

Summer is vacation time. As a nutritionist and registered dietitian, I advocate for all the facets of healthy lifestyles, and near the top of the list is substantial time off from the daily grind. Don’t underestimate the importance of a vacation; your body actually needs the break, no matter what your circumstances are.

Daily life hurls all sorts of small stresses at us. The hormones released during short-term stressful situations actually help us to make quick decisions and avoid trouble. But too many of those hormones can actually deteriorate the cardiovascular system.

If you’re already at risk for heart disease, or have some risk factors working against you, the last thing you want to do is stay on the stress train. Most doctors will tell you your body needs a vacation. And by this, they don’t mean hanging out at the mall near the house, with your cell phone. A complete change of scenery and routine is what’s required to help the body rejuvenate and heal.

If you’ve got a Type A person in your world, put this article in front of that person and recommend a true getaway: no office politics, no irritating neighbors, no repairs that need to be made.

Next, don’t set up yourself for added stress when you get home. One week of weight gain can take months to lose, and every time you button tight pants, you’ll feel a twinge of disappointment in yourself.
Make a commitment to having a healthy vacation. Get in the mindset that you’re leaving for health reasons, and you want to feel as good as possible upon your return.

This is not to say you can’t indulge a little bit – an occasional “cheat” day is a good idea even at home. But promising yourself true rest, some form of pleasurable exercise and relatively healthy food can really start an exciting (and beneficial) new phase of your life.

Here are some tips which will help you avoid vacation weight gain. If you’ll have access to a kitchen, take your George Foreman grill and electric skillet and go to the grocery store. You’ll save a fortune, which you can spend on activities and attractions.

In many hotels, you can request a mini fridge and microwave, even if they’re not normally in the room. During a recent Orlando conference, the Ritz-Carlton charged me next to nothing for both. So I had all the health foods and drinks with me that I wanted, and spent far less eating out.

Odds are high you’ll patronize restaurants on vacation. Commit three rules to memory and they will make a big difference in your waistline over the coming years.
1. Never, never, never get regular salad dressing. Request a low-fat dressing.
2. Always, always, always ask for the salad dressing on the side.
3. No no no fried foods; order baked, boiled, broiled or blackened. Fast food is a trap – avoid it if possible, but if not, steer clear of fried foods, cheese and fatty condiments.

If you’re staying in a hotel with free continental breakfast, stay away from the pastries, doughnuts and hash browns. Instead, choose whole-grain breads and cereals, low-fat yogurt, fruits, and eggs (a good source of protein). Keep in mind you can still make oatmeal with the in-room coffee maker.

Also plan your vacation to include physical activity. If you’ll be in an urban area, check online for Ys, family parks or a family rec center. We try to plan activities within our vacation that are fun physical components, such as bike riding. Take a hike, play basketball, do a quick workout, and try something new. Even things you’re bad at (badminton, anyone?) create fun family memories while setting a healthy pattern.

Extra Protein Benefits Most; Liquid Collagen my Choice

In my last column, I explained that whey protein is often a problem for lactose-intolerant people who are using a protein supplement. It’s easy to assume that a protein supplement is beneficial for only extreme athletes such as bodybuilders, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Protein has many uses and supplementation is beneficial for a wide variety of users. They include the elderly; those with joint or degenerative diseases, or orthopedic conditions; the overweight; people who do heavy manual labor in their work, sport or hobby; those going through growth phases; people in physical rehab; men and women doing intensive training for a sport or competition; adults who work out on a regular basis; teen athletes who are trying to build muscle and strength; people taking symptomatic treatment for pain relief or inflammation; and anyone with pain resulting from excessive joint stress. Hardly anyone you know doesn’t fit onto that list somewhere.

The trick is getting that extra protein without absorbing a lot of extra calories, fillers or dairy products (as in the case of whey protein powder).

Collagen is a great way to get added protein. Did you know that collagen is the second-largest component of the human body after water? It’s a protein, and one found in muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons, bones and more.

Historically, physicians have used collagen to treat skin trauma, such as burns and wounds. But collagen also affects the hair, nails and overall healthy appearance of skin, which is why you see it advertised in high-end skin care products.

As we age, our bodies stop producing collagen protein, and sadly, it’s collagen that gives our skin elasticity. So the appearance of dry, wrinkled skin is really the lack of collagen. Supplementing your diet with a natural source of collagen protein doesn’t just make you more youthful looking, however. Collagen builds lean healthy muscle – the muscle of youth – as well as healthy joints and bones. Can you think of a better supplement to give the special elders in your life?

Collagen protein also helps aid in the repair of muscle tissue. Because a good workout or physical exercise is actually breaking down the body’s muscles, collagen protein assists in the rebuilding process. Collagen makes it possible to heal faster, simultaneously building leaner muscle, following a workout. Some will even find they sleep more soundly when taking collagen protein. Sounds better all the time, doesn’t it?

You may wonder why a person can’t just eat more protein and gain the same benefits. It’s about bioavailability. Protein in food form has calories, of course, and a healthy daily diet only contains so many. The bioavailability of the protein also comes into question. By the time your body works to chew and digest the food, you’re not getting nearly as much protein as the amount you started with on your plate.

A powder form can provide extra protein without as much work for the body, but comes with the added calories of what it’s poured into. A liquid protein is your best bet. Find one that’s small in calories, and better yet, hydrolyzed – or “predigested” – which simply means that you ingest it in its smallest form, with no extra work for the body to break it down.

I encourage you to join me – and my husband and my teenage son – and add a low-cal collagen protein supplement to your diet. You could be amazed at the changes you experience. See the developing abs on the teen in the photo? That’s my son Cody, who drinks a liquid collagen protein supplement and works out regularly.

- Elaine Hastings is a registered dietitian, sports nutrition authority, and and owner of Associates in Nutrition Therapy in Fort Myers, Florida. She can be contacted at Elaine@eatrightRD.com or by visiting Associatesin Nutrition.com.

Eating is Tough for Those with Alzheimer’s

It’s highly likely that you know someone who has or is suffering with Alzheimer’s disease; it’s the most common type of dementia. Four million Americans have the disease; most are over 65. The loss of mental function has a direct bearing on the nutrition of the individual who has the disease.

In early stages of Alzheimer’s, a person may be able to feed himself but cannot eat in a setting that’s not familiar. In this situation, verbal cues are important for reassurance, so that proper nutrition is maintained.

As the disease progresses, however, the issues become more serious. Loved ones may forget how to perform certain functions relevant to eating, such as how to hold silverware, how to chew, when to swallow – all of which can mandate the need for mealtime coaching. In its final stages, Alzheimer’s robs our family members of the ability to swallow, and with less consumption of food, there can be, of course, a serious lack of nutrients for the body.

Nutritionists don’t have a set plan as we follow individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. Certain things can be more helpful, such as incorporating finger foods, to prolong independent eating. Therapeutic diets relevant to other chronic diseases are usually considered, because dietary intake is key: weight loss and low body weight are predictors of morbidity.

Offering his or her favorite foods and a variety of textures and flavors decreases the likelihood of “food fatigue.” At all times, and through all dietary challenges, the family member’s dignity must also be considered. Without dignity, the will suffers, and willpower is key to survival.

Victims of Alzheimer’s also build intolerance to change; new routines are hard on them, as are new environments. If your loved one has been transferred to a hospital or assisted living facility, then is when they will especially be prone to higher frustration levels over diminishing ability to perform simple tasks. A formerly simple act, such as opening a container or carton, can create rage in a new setting, so mealtimes are particularly treacherous during and after a transition.

In this situation, refusal to eat can actually be stemming from frustration over packaging or mechanics, without it being verbalized that way. Unfortunately, 75 percent of those with Alzheimer’s are admitted to resident care facilities within five years of diagnosis, so the gauntlet of a new environment is hard to avoid.

There are a couple of nutrition-related myths surrounding Alzheimer’s. One has been hanging on since the 1960s, when it was suspected that drinking from aluminum cans could lead to the disease. While experts have failed to find any evidence that this is true, the resulting “fear of aluminum” spread, and people have wondered about the safety of aluminum pots and pans, antacids and even antiperspirants.

Again, no evidence has been presented which justifies these fears, although as a registered dietitian and nutritionist I would prefer you drink nearly anything other than sodas, which are nutritionally devoid and can have high sugar levels.

The thought of diet sodas leads me to the second Alzheimer’s myth: that Aspartame causes memory loss. While all sorts of health concerns have come up about the artificial sweetener found in Equal and NutraSweet, the FDA’s findings – based on experiments by 100 clinical studies – find no evidence of an Alzheimer’s connection.

The subject of sugars and sweeteners is one I’ll save for another day.

Kitchen Wall Color has Diet Impact

Your kitchen is the center of your nutritional hub. It’s where you make your decisions on how (and how often) to fuel your own body, and the bodies of others you may be responsible for feeding. For some of you, it’s also the place where meals are served and consumed: at a bar or island, for example, or a casual kitchen table.

You’ve already taken control of what goes in your refrigerator; now summer’s your chance to take control of the mood your kitchen sets. Believe it or not, the color of your kitchen walls can have an impact on your diet. Perhaps it’s time to evaluate how you want your kitchen to make you feel, and seize the day.

First of all, there’s a reason that McDonald’s, Burger King and every fast food restaurant known to man incorporates red and yellow in their logos and décor. Want to guess why?

Let’s start with yellow. This cheery hue is good for optimism and hope. But it also stimulates the appetite, pure and simple. You just thought you wanted a salad … now you want a Big Mac with fries.

Yellow is happy, but to overweight people, it can also be a tad dangerous when applied to kitchen walls. Better to let a good workout stimulate the appetite than the mere presence of a color. Unless, of course, you are underweight.

Need to beef up? Head for the yellow section of the paint store and slather it on. Think butter, egg yolks, lemons … mmm, I’m getting hungry already. But yellow helps the memory, so it could be useful if mom’s not available for a recipe consult.

Orange stimulates learning. If you’re a new cook, or aspiring chef or nutritionist, opt for orange.

As for red, it is a complex color, perhaps the most of all. Red engages us and brings out our emotions. Here’s the amazing thing about this color: to calm people, it is exciting, in a good way, a little thrilling. But for folks who are more anxious in nature, red is disturbing. The last thing you want is to be disturbed eight to 12 times a day, so be honest with yourself about your nature, and that of others with whom you may live.

Red walls trigger the release of adrenaline (which can be good for cooking, I suppose). And like yellow, it also stimulates the appetite, while simultaneously stimulating the sense of smell. Red walls can also increase your blood pressure and breathing rate.

Blue is opposite of yellow, on the color wheel, and in terms of appetite. It decreases blood pressure, the breathing rate, and the desire to eat, as do indigo and violet. So if you’re determined to drop 20, 30, even 40 pounds … coat your walls in hues of blueberries, grapes or plums. This will also remind you to eat antioxidants, which is a good thing. You win on two counts!

Pink is also proven as a winning weight-control color, at none other than prestigious Johns Hopkins Medical University in Baltimore.

Violet is known for its ability to create balance. So as you’re planning your menus or dishing out portions of lean protein, fresh veggies and multigrain bread, look to your walls for inspiration. (Violet is also good for migraine sufferers).

This brings us to green, the color of all things fresh and good for our bodies. Green is relaxing, and also creates a sense of balance. It relaxes the body, and helps those who suffer from nervousness, anxiety or depression. Green may also aid in raising blood histamine levels, reducing sensitivity to food allergies. Antigens may also be stimulated by green, for overall better immune system healing.

Placing your sunlit fresh herbs near a green wall brings the outdoors in. That might also make you think about starting a garden, going for a walk or run, or cycling around the neighborhood.

Brown enhances a feeling of security, reduces fatigue and is relaxing. Black is a power color. If you have six-packs and you know it, raise your hand. Gray is the most neutral of all colors for the kitchen: not much happening there. Brighter hues inspire creativity and energy, while darker colors are peaceful and lower stress. Beige and off-white are “learning” colors.

Make good choices, on your walls, as well as your plate. What color should your kitchen be?

How Can We Encourage Kids to Be More Active?

From my notes for the Daybreak Show on Fox 92.5 with Trey Radel. It was fun, Southwest Florida !

Q: How can we motivate kids to be more active?

1. STOP for a bit after work and take your children to the park. The 20-30 min you spend with them will change their lives and yours.

2. Always have your tennis shoes and change of clothes or a gym bag in your car. It eliminates your excuses. Children are ready to have fun any time. We do in life, what we make time for and a shift in priorities is necessary. In this fast-paced, crazy life we live in, we forget our children only mimic us. If you’re a couch potato, what do you think you’re going to get

3. We live in Florida, go run on the beach, barefoot in the sand with your children. Play Frisbee. Talk a long walk in shallow water.

4. Pick an active hobby that helps others, like walking an elderly neighbor’s dog.

5. Plan games and activies that are fun but active – regular physical activity can improve mental health and mood for both you and your children.

6. Once school gets out, start your day with a walk in the morning before work, to just talk to your your child(ren). Try it just once and I guarantee it will be the MOST rewarding day you have had in a LONG time. You will have activity and learn something about your child(ren).

7. Take your kids to the pool with a snorkel and fins and thrown money in the pool, they will enjoy hunting for even pennies, dimes and nickels. Make a game out of it. How many can they get with one breath? Have them get only the pennies with one breath. Throw in a few quarters, half-dollars or specialty coins. Then let them keep a few at the end. (ps. Don’t forget the sun screen

Simple Changes at Home Encourage Nutrition

Posted May 27th, 2010 by Elaine Hastings, RD - Nutrition Expert and filed in nutrition

Q: What are some simple changes to make at home, which encourage better nutrition and health?
(in terms of shopping, habits, or schedules)

First and foremost: remember that kids mimic adults!
Your children will do what you do, eat what you eat!

With that in mind, here are some simple changes to make, which give the whole family a healthful advantage:

Don’t buy sodas
Don’t buy sugary breakfast cereals
Eat breakfast every day
Keep fruits and veggies on hand
Don’t let kids eat standing up: be mindful of each meal
Plant a garden at home with your kids
Grow or keep herbs in pots in the kitchen
Take walks after dinner or early in the day – a great time to talk (and listen)
Declare one day a week as treat day, when candy or dessert is allowed……..?

Fit in fun on Friday!

Posted October 2nd, 2009 by Elaine Hastings, RD - Nutrition Expert and filed in Fit In Fitness Friday

It’s Friday again, so make sure you fit fitness into your weekend plans.

As the fall season falls upon us, it’s a great time to enjoy the outdoor weather. Gather the family for a picnic at the park where you can walk the trails, rent bicycles, or perhaps give your arms a work-out in a canoe or kayak. You can burn calories while enjoying some quality time with the family.

Fit in fun on Friday!

Posted September 25th, 2009 by Elaine Hastings, RD - Nutrition Expert and filed in Exercise Tips, Fit In Fitness Friday

Fit in Fun on Friday is my weekly blog on ways that you can stay fit with the family. Here are a few ideas for the weekend, rain or shine:

As fall approaches and the weather begins to change, it’s a great time to enjoy a hike or walk through your neighborhood, local parks, trails or the beach. A three mile walk at a leisurely pace can burn up to 300 calories per hour. Take this opportunity to establish a family exercise routine and add daily walks to your family calendar.

If the weather is not in your favor, it’s time to get creative with your family fitness plans. There are plenty of options for indoor fun right in your own home. How about a family dance party? Let everyone choose their favorite dance songs and get your groove on.  You can burn approximately 300 calories while dancing at an aerobic pace so burn baby burn!

Remember, combining exercise and a balanced diet will help your family develop good habits to support a healthy lifestyle.